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A Bruins-like meltdown was never going to happen. It was a cute story, but the Boston Celtics are not like other sports franchises. With 17 Championship Banners and a team of ring-bearing veterans, they are no strangers to pressure-cooker playoff contests. After giving Orlando a puncher’s chance with two straight losses, the Celtics finally put any talk of a collapse to rest with a command performance at the Garden, defeating the Orlando Magic 96-84.
The Celtics found themselves in the same situation as their Causeway Street co-tenants, leading their opponent 3-0 in a best-of-seven series. The Bruins gave away four games straight, losing their series to Philadelphia and thereby joining a dubious list of history-makers. Inevitable comparisons to their hardcourt brethren abounded when the Celtics began yielding a three game lead of their own. The media had some fun with the comparisons, and early on, it became nauseating to listen to the constant reminders brought forth during the game broadcast.
It wouldn’t take long for the Celtics to start shutting people’s mouths.
In a game in which they only ever trailed by one (in the 1st quarter), Boston got huge performances from both the longest and shortest tenured Celtics, Paul Pierce and Nate Robinson, respectively.
“There will be a game where we’re flat and need somebody to make something happen and Nate will do that. He’s going to win a playoff game.” – Doc Rivers, April, 2010
Though it sounded like lip service at the time, Rivers proved to be clairvoyant as Robinson acted as an instant catalyst after Rajon Rondo went down after a hard foul. Coming off the bench in the second quarter, Robinson went to work in a hurry. He drained two threes in a quick minute-and-a-half, and headed into the locker room smiling, with 13 points in just eight productive minutes. It is worth noting that Robinson’s second three extended Boston’s lead to 15, setting the tone for what would remain a game of catch-up for Orlando.
“You know, he really won this game for us because the game was in the mix to go either direction and he really gave us a spark,” Pierce said of Robinson. “That’s really growing up, really growing into a man tonight.”
It is a testament to Robinson, an oft-criticized player, that he was able to be ready when his number was called. Known to many for a “me first” attitude, Robinson has been a model citizen during his time in Green. Logging more minutes on the pine than on the parquet, it’s impressive to see Robinson come in cold and get to work in a hurry. The Stephon Marbury experiment never worked this well.
The new guy certainly deserves his praise, but it’s the veteran Pierce who once again set the tone. With 31 points, 13 rebounds, five dimes, and two steals, Pierce continues to do it all in his spectacularly sloppy fashion. Like a running back reaching for extra yardage, Pierce’s feet never stop, his footwork a beautiful disaster. Though it often looks sloppy, Pierce’s results speak for themselves. He defends, he scores, he always gets to the line, and lately, he wins. He is the most underrated player in the NBA. It’s not up for debate.
Early on, it became apparent that the Celtics weren’t going to be the first team in NBA history to blow a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven playoff series. With an experienced team of winning veterans, Boston realized that Friday night’s game was, in reality, a must-win game that couldn’t be squandered. Send the series back to Orlando, and they might as well send themselves home. The series had to be put to rest. Coming out hot, the Celtics held the Magic to 19 points on 38-percent shooting in the first quarter and never looked back.
Orlando cut it to 13 points at halftime, but in trademark 2008 fashion, the Celtics scored 11 of the first 13 points in the third quarter and never led by fewer than 14 in the fourth until the final minute.
As it stands, the Celtics have eliminated the teams of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Dwight Howard. The Finals will likely present an opportunity to eliminate Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. Sure, basketball is a team sport, but to plow through four of the top four players in the league would be a feat in itself. As Stan Van Gundy said in his post game presser,
“They beat two very good teams, and made us look like we weren’t very good teams. When you go through two series like that, I think you have to be fair and say a lot has to do with them.”
As Doc Rivers poignantly noted, “This starting five has never lost a series, ever.”
Why stop now?